Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kenang-kenangan Hidup

So my youngest two siblings want me to write about their bapak. I don’t blame them. They didn’t get the chance to get to know their bapak like we the elder siblings did. We spent nearly 20 years with him, while my youngest sis, for one, for barely for 8 month.
It is not easy writing about him. For one he is no longer with us. He can't defend himself in my writing for sure - not that he needs to defend himself. On the other hand I don't want to paint him like a saint that he becomes so unreal, even when he is a very religious person. But his exploits in the course of discharging his duties and 'amanah' would make him nearly a saint, especially vis-a-vis today's morale standards.
Another bro wants me to write more on Taiping, another topic close to my heart. I have a story on the Tekah airfield aka Taiping Aerodrome (in Assam Kumbang Taiping), where Sukarno & Hatta had landed in the 40s; another on a writing by one colonial officer in the 1900 beautifully describing Taiping after-the-rain that had me jumping and screaming “That’s my Taiping; that’s the Taiping I knew.” Yes, I have been wanting to write about both topics – it is in my mind all the time.

But where do I begin?
I am as clueless as to where to start as Pak Lah clueless about managing this country. No joke. Just relying on my memory and not talking say to his sister MakCak or his brothers PakLang and PCYa, I found it hard to recall all those memories of him. May be I don’t want to, I don’t know.

The life and Times of Hariri Bab
Bapak was born in Kuala Kangsar in April 1936 and went to Clifford School. The house they lived in was a row of government houses right in the middle of KK, which front the school. The house is more like a rumah berek on a stilt. Two room and a living room and you go down (and out) to the kitchen and another room, with an open space in between to dry your clothes. Of course in 2007, that row of houses is no longer there. It is now a bus stand and a new township for KK.
We had our chance in 1979-1982 (??) perhaps to re-live what he and his sibling went through living in the same row of houses. I remember coming back after SPM and that night after my arrival, I slept from after magrib till the next morning and felt like I had waken up from my death.
It was the most beautiful sleep I had ever had.
Sorry, I digress.
The Bab family in their KK home in the 50s
with their grandmother. Their mother had just passed away.
I don’t recall much of his life in KK to be honest. Life was difficult for the 8 sibling without a mother since 1947, and with a dad with a newly married wife (Tok Bab re-married after 3 months), it was not an ideal environment to excel. Tok Bab was a technician with Telekom and I am sure his pay in those days was peanuts.
But he played cricket a lot at a field near the house (not too far from KK's wet market). He had told me stories of his cricket exploit when I came back from summer holidays, but not having caught yet the cricket bug myself, I didn't give his stories much thought. Ah, well, those were the colonial times, I guess.
Bapak with PC Wan (on the left) at Bukit Bendera. This was probably taken in the 50s(??)
But he passed his senior Cambridge exam. Senior Cambridge, from my understanding, is the O level of the olden days, and going by the number who would passed SC, I think it was probably like getting a degree today. And during those days not many would have reached that level. I don’t know why he didn’t go on and further his studies. Money issue? Qualification issue? I had never asked him.
But upon passing, his eldest bro Zainuddin Bahari Bab (PakLong), who was then working at Utusan Melayu (which was then owned by the Ishak’s brothers – Aziz Ishak to bapak is Pak Jed) asked his friend for help for a job in the government sector for his brother Hariri. I remember this story well, as told by PakLong.
“But he is overqualified for the job,” Pak Long was told, “ I am not sure whether he would last there.”
YOu read it right. He was overqualified for the post.
“Trust me,” PakLong reassured, “I know my brother and he will not leave.”
Bapak at a field expedition in Batu Gajah (??) in the 60s.
This was his first job - and his last.
Leave he didn’t and Bapak died in office in 1984 in Taiping.
For as long as I can remember, bapak was a settlement officer (SO) at the Land & District office at the various towns in Perak (Taiping in the 1960s, Batu Gajah up to 1968, Lenggong from 1968-1972, back to Taiping (1973-1978), Kuala Kangsar (1978-1984) and then back to Taiping (1984)). Obviously he had gone up the ladder from being a junior officer to the most senior SO.
Bapak as a settlement officer in his Pejabat Tanah office
But the next step of the hierarchy eluded him. I remember that in the 70s he went to Ipoh and sat for an examination for promotion, but he didn’t get the promotion to ADO (assistant district officer). I don’t know why, I believe that may be it has something to do with his health; may be he didn't pass the interview, may be he didn't play the office politics well, who knows. He had stone in his kidney and hypertension, and especially in the 80s when it was at his worst, in some way I am glad he is not an ADO or DO.
While he was a government servant through and through, he never encouraged any of his children to seek a living with the government. "Enough that I am one," he said, "I expect you to work in the private sector." I think he can see it in the future, perhaps the private sector would be more rewarding. Except for one lecturer and one teacher daughters, we have basically steered away from the government sector (i.e. two out of thirteen).
He put emphasis on education for his children. “I have nothing to give you but a good education,” that was his mantra ("Bapak tak ada apa nak bagi kat anak-anak kecuali pelajaran.") I would get that small talk practically every time I came back from boarding school. He is right, he knew he didn’t have much to give his 12 children (excluding one adopted daughter) in term of worldly wealth. And he knew that the only way for the family to progress is through education.
That he went all out to get it for us. Nothing was spared in his pursuit of that objective. Even if he goes broke getting us there - which was most of the time.
While I don’t like to talk about other people’s salary; notwithstanding my own bapak, I know what he earned then was peanuts. And to support 13 of us was a burden to him but he carried it all in the spirit "They ain't heavy, they are my family." He had never had luxury in his life. No new cars for him throughout his life – the Morris Minor (AD 8479) was a second hand.
My brother and I riding a bike in the compound of SK Sentul
in Kuala Lumpur in 1967. IN the background is the Morris Minor  AD8479.

When he brought the 'new' car home in Batu Gajah, we asked him while he was taking us for a spin, “kalau kereta baru, kenapa dia buruk?” I don’t recall his answer – he probably took it in stride like that Burung Murai dad. He drove that car for nearly 20 years till he sold it in the early 80s and bought a second hand Opel Kadett (AW2002).
That was the car that we had a breakdown in the middle of the night in the early 70s that he had to ask us to wind up the window just in case if a tiger were to pound on him while he was out checking on the engine; at least his wife and kids were safe.
Oh, and you know what was his fav car - The Puegeot. I remember that he wanted it so much that a couple of times the salesman was at our house in Aulong. But he knew he could not afford the car, so in the end he resorted to buying an old Opel.
And still no aircond for us then.
He didn't get to taste living in his own house until the last week of his life.
That’s the kind of dad you have, Zali, Aisyah.
He would sit and read the books with us at night at our government bungalow at the edge of Lenggong. “Goodbye Aminah, goodbye Mei Ling, I’ll see you again tomorrow,” said Ali - we would read along (that was from a Std 1 book). That’s how he cultivated the love for books in his family. He would spend the time with us, and not just give a directive “Pegi baca buku!” like yours truly to his kids nowadays.
……….to be continued
If you want to get to know your bapak, listen to these two songs. We used to listen to this folk song by The Brothers Four & Theme from A Summer Place by the Percy Faith Orchestra in the early 70s on vinyl. Yes, the vinyl is still with me and safe in my collection. For some reasons everytime I listen to these two songs, it reminds me so much of him.
Greenfields & A Summer Place EP
This is the ori vinyl (EP) from the 60s that is still in good working condition. There are two songs on this side - Theme from a Summer Place and Greenfields.
This song was a very popular song in the 60s. Even Peter, my associate was stopped on his track when he heard this song one day on my notebook. He is just a couple of years younger than bapak.
The lyric is so poetic. I for one knew the lyric by heart, ever since I was in primary school. For he was our Greenfields & our Summer Place.
If you want to listen to the recorded version of Greenfields, click here. Otherwise click on the youtube below for the live version from the men themselves - the Brothers Four.
Once there were green fields, kissed by the sun.
Once there were valleys, where rivers used to run.
Once there were blue skies, with white clouds high above.
Once they were part of an everlasting love.
We were the lovers who strolled through green fields.

Green fields are gone now, parched by the sun.
Gone from the valleys, where rivers used to run.
Gone with the cold wind, that swept into my heart.
Gone with the lovers, who let their dreams depart.
Where are the green fields, that we used to roam?

I'll never know what made you run away.
How can I keep searching when dark clouds hide the day
I only know there's nothing here for me.
Nothing in this wide world, left for me to see.

But I'll keep on waiting, ‘til you return.
I'll keep on waiting, until the day you learn.
You can't be happy, while your heart's on the roam,
You can't be happy until you bring it home.
Home to the green fields, and me once again


  1. Great writeup and priceless photos. A lesson in history indeed. Take care.

  2. Very interesting blog, I have actually bookmarked it for reading when I have the chance. Keep up the excellent writing, it is not often I find a blog I can "connect" to.